A former Republican state chairman is gathering signatures to help get Jonathan Pelto, a Democratic critic of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, on the ballot as an independent candidate for governor, telling GOP voters that Pelto will draw votes from Malloy.
Chris Healy, who stepped down in 2011 after four years as GOP chairman, wrote an email to Republicans in his hometown of Wethersfield urging them to sign a Pelto petition. He told The Mirror he was circulating a petition he obtained from Pelto, whom he has known for years, in a recent meeting over coffee.
Healy and Pelto give the same the account of that meeting only to a point: Pelto says he gave Healy the petition, but not with the intention that Healy get signatures. Healy says he explicitly told Pelto he would circulate the petition.
“I told him I would do what I could to help,” Healy said.
“I certainly did not ask nor would I expect any help or support from the Republicans. We’re doing just fine on the petitions,” Pelto said.
Whatever the case, Healy wrote an email to Republicans in Wethersfield, making the case that Pelto could do to Malloy in 2014 what Tom Marsh did to Republican Tom Foley in 2010.
Marsh was a Republican selectman from Chester who ran for governor as an independent. He attracted 17,000 votes, a factor that Foley, the front runner for the GOP nomination this year, blames for his loss to Malloy by 6,404 votes.
As he made clear in his email, Healy does, too.
“Republicans, one of the ways we can help our Gubernatorial candidate is if we bleed votes from Malloy,” Healy wrote. “To that end, if anyone is comfortable, I have a petition to get Jonathan Pelto on the ballot. He will only hurt Malloy the way Tom Marsh hurt us in 2010.
“Let me know of your interest in signing over the weekend.”
Healy said he already has gathered some signatures.
“I’ve talked to Jonathan a couple of times. He is an old friend. I’ve done projects with him,” Healy said. Both he and Pelto work as government affairs consultants.
There is debate about the degree to which third-party candidates draw from Democrats or Republicans in state and national elections, as opposed to giving the disaffected a way to register a protest vote, as opposed to staying home.
One Republican activist, who spoke only if not named, said most in the GOP agree with Healy that Pelto primarily would hurt Malloy, but there is an undercurrent of concern that Pelto also might draw Democrats to the polls who otherwise would stay home. One potential consequence: down-ticket Democrats might actually benefit.
Another concern is that a key issue for Pelto is his opposition to Common Core education standards, a position that appeals to some conservatives.
Pelto is among those who says his impact in the race is hard to measure.
“With my range of issues, the anti-Common Core as an example, it’s going to be pulling from a wide spectrum of voters,” Pelto said.
The Mirror interviewed Pelto before Healy contradicted him on the nature of their understanding about what Healy intended to do with the petition Pelto gave him. His position did not change: the coffee was social, not a request for help, though he acknowledged giving Healy the petition.
“It very much is a surprise to me,” Pelto said of Healy’s email. “I don’t want to be a vehicle for the Foley political apparatus in any way whatsoever. I actually meant it when I said, this charge of spoiler, I take that seriously.”
Pelto, 53, a former state representative from Mansfield and the political director of the state Democratic Party in the 1980s, needs to gather 7,500 signatures by Aug. 6 to get on the ballot as the standard bearer of a party he created: the Education and Democracy Party.
Joe Visconti, a Republican who failed to quality for a GOP primary, also is petitioning at get on the November ballot as an independent candidate for governor, stressing his opposition to gun control and the Common Core.
Pelto, who tried and failed to get a job with the Malloy administration, has been a critic of Malloy since he took office in January 2011 as the first Democratic governor since William A. O’Neill left office two decades earlier. As the party’s political director, Pelto played a role in O’Neill’s last campaign.